‘Perceptions of Terrorism’ project

Swansea historian and member of CRAM Dr Chris Millington will be working with Dr Victoria Lovett and Dr Stephen Johnston in the Department of Psychology on a new project entitled ‘Perceptions of Terrorism’.

This project combines the disciplines of history and psychology to investigate perceptions of terrorism.   Studies have shown that while UK citizens perceive terrorism to be the biggest threat both to their own personal safety and the security of the world[1], investigation into the average citizen’s relationship to, and understanding of, requires further investigation.  Lee Jarvis and Michael Lister’s 2013 survey of people’s understandings of the effect of anti-terror legislation on their own citizenship began to address this lacuna in the research.[2] The project will investigate how participants understand and define terrorism themselves.  By measuring participants’ responses to stimuli such as images of ‘typical’ and well-known acts of terrorism (the 9/11 attacks for example), as well as to those of more ambiguous actions (US drone strikes for example), the project will investigate what people recognise to be ‘terrorism’.


The study will also investigate who the participants understand and recognise to be a terrorist.  The ordinary citizen’s understanding of who perpetrates terrorism is vital to the UK government’s anti-terrorism policy.  This policy relies on citizens’ ability to identify nascent terrorist threats, and to report and challenge suspicious and ‘extremist’ behaviour within their local communities, and especially within Muslim communities.[3] Perceptions of terrorism, and who perpetrates it, have cultural significance beyond the realm of government policy.  In the wake of the conviction of Zack Davies for the attempted murder of Sarandev Bhambra in a North Wales supermarket, the victim’s family argued that Davies should have faced a terrorism charge and that he would have done so if the ethnicities of attacker and victim had been reversed.[4] Likewise, soldier Ryan McGee, who had far-right sympathies, avoided a terror charge for constructing a nail bomb, prompting some to note the apparent difference in the treatment of white and non-white offenders.[5]  The study will measure participants’ reactions to images to determine the extent to which they connect images of certain people with terrorism.

Funded by the Welsh Crucible scheme for research leaders, the project represents an innovative interdisciplinary collaboration between two disciplines, history and psychology, both of which are concerned with the analysis and interpretation of human behaviour.

[1]https://yougov.co.uk/news/2014/09/19/terrorism-disease-bigger-concerns/ accessed 3 August 2015; Daniel Stevens and Nick Vaughan-Williams, ‘Citizens and security threats: Issues, perceptions and consequences beyond the national frame’, British Journal of Political Science, published online advance access 23 June 2014.

[2] Lee Jarvis and Michael Lister, ‘Disconnected citizenship? The impacts of anti-terrorism policy on citizenship in the UK’, Political Studies 61 (2013), 661.

[3] Ibid., 661.

[4] ‘Nazi-obsessed loner guilty of attempted murder of dentist in racist attack’, The Guardian, 25 June 2015, http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/jun/25/zack-davies-racist-guilty-attempted-murder-dentist

[5] ‘Soldier jailed for making nail bomb avoids terror charge’, The Guardian, 28 November 2014.




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